The mid day sun, alone in the sky for most of the morning, is slowly being overtaken by the broken white clouds of a mackerel sky. The tide is way out and though there has been some rain the creek is still low. The mud flats are several feet above the surface and every submerged stick, bottle, rock, and tire is visible. Though with a uniform coating of mud only a rough outline of their shape differentiates each object. Even though the new year is hours away the air is warm, springlike. Only the lack of color from ripening leaf buds and young skunk cabbages place the day in late December.
Out in the flats three young boys are following the channel around a wide bend. One drops onto his knees, firmly sinking himself in the mud, and reaches forward. He pulls up a handful of something, showing it towards his companions. A pinecone, he exclaims with genuine joy. The other boys look back, then turn their eyes to the ground, searching for something of their own.
Nearly a dozen years before along the same wide, muddy bend I paddled a borrowed cedar strip tandem kayak, built around an old Klepper folding frame. A friend and I had just set out into the muddy waters and humid summer air. We spent the day chasing ducks and exploring the sinuous side channels of the South Branch of the Big Timber Creek.
That trip, with hundreds after, lead me down the Ohio and Mississippi. Each stroke, each friend, each watery mile moved me downstream.